Recycling Robots Rescue Soft-Plastics Refuse

June 23, 2021

Every day we are getting closer to the Jetsons world I envisioned as a kid. Indeed, robots now can delicately sort through trash to pick out soft plastics like cling wrap and plastic bags. This sorting work is currently done by humans but it's not an efficient process and the soft plastics that slip through the sorters grasp get all twisted up and cause lines to shut down. By putting whom I envision as a relative of the Jetsons’ maid, Rosie, on the task, the amount of soft plastics going to the landfill will be reduced significantly, according to researchers from the Centre for Internet of Things (IoT) and Telecommunications at the University of Sydney, Australia.

Recycling Robot On The Job

A descendant of Rosie the Robot -- the Jetsons' maid -- is hard at work picking out soft plastics. Source: Centre for Internet of Things (IoT) and Telecommunications at the University of Sydney.

“The recycling robotic automation system will use artificial intelligence and computer vision to learn how to identify different forms of recycling waste, effectively learning how to ‘see’ and ‘sort’ waste, to create separate waste streams and maintain soft plastics’ purity so they can be recycled,” says research team member and IoT expert, Professor Branka Vucetic.

“Between 2018 and 2019, Australia generated 2.5 million tons of plastic waste, which included soft plastics: only 9 percent was sent to recycling while 84 percent went to landfill. We aim to drastically switch those percentages by developing a solution that allows for most soft plastic waste being recycled,” says Dr. Wanchun Liu, also part of the research team.

After being separated from other waste, the soft plastics will be used for various purposes, including advanced recycling into oils and other valuable chemicals.

Traci Purdum  has never been able to successfully use cling wrap without cursing and having to unstick it from itself. You can email her your cling-wrap tips now that there is a way to efficiently recycle the plastic -- [email protected].

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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